Israel: Civic Space Overview
Respect for fundamental freedoms in Israel is heavily influenced by the complex political situation related to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories. Several internal factors also have a significant impact on individuals’ ability to exercise civic freedoms. These include weakened and ambiguous legislation, allowing the state to impose its authority on individuals and restrict their ability to organise, assemble, and speak out. Security-oriented state policies enhance the power of the army and undermine human rights protections.
Israel has used terrorism laws to designate and label Palestinian civil society groups as such, and the state has been known to use Pegasus software to surveil human rights defenders, especially those working in the occupied Palestinian territories. Human rights defenders face not only surveillance, but judicial harassment and physical attacks. Activists focusing on indigenous rights, the right to self determination, and the rights of minorities and vulnerable populations are particularly at risk of intimidation and harassment from the authorities. A 2016 law requires NGOs that receive more than half of their funding from foreign governments to disclose this publicly and a 2017 law denies entry to foreign individuals or groups that publicly support a boycott of Israel or its West Bank settlements.
Freedom of expression came under threat due to the state use of spyware. Journalists reporting from the occupied Palestinian territories are at risk of physical attacks from the Israeli Defence Force, which has been known to shoot at journalists in a number of cases. The media environment in Israel is considered robust, with some room for criticism of the authorities, though reports on security-related topics can be censored by the military.
Although there is no constitutional guarantee of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, it has been upheld by the judiciary as a fundamental right. The Police Ordinance (1971) and the Penal Law (1977) regulate the right to peaceful assembly, and they require prior permission to hold a demonstration or gathering involving more than 50 and where speeches or a march will be held in open air. In practice, government authorities reject permits for numerous public gatherings and repress them while they are being held. Gatherings which are anti-government, oppose government policies, or support Palestinian causes are specifically targeted.
Civic Space Developments